‘Des’ reviews round-up: David Tennant is ‘captivating’ and ‘mesmerising’

ITV’s new ’80s true crime drama Des started in the UK last night.

The three-part mini-series follows the arrest and trial of real-life serial killer Dennis Nilsen.

Based on Brian Masters’ book Killing for Company, Des dramatises one of the most infamous cases in UK criminal history.

The cast includes David Tennant (Broadchurch), Daniel Mays (Line of Duty), and Jason Watkins (The Crown).

Watch the trailer:


The official synopsis reads: “Nilsen murdered boys and young men in his flat from 1978 to 1983. He was undetected for five years, and it was only when DCI Peter Jay was called to 23 Cranley Gardens on 9 February, 1983, to investigate human fragments of flesh and bone clogging the drains, that the police realised they had a serial killer on their hands.

“Told from both the police and Masters’ point of view, Des will explore how a man like Nilsen was able to prey on the young and vulnerable in 1980s Britain. The series will not only highlight the police investigation and trial but also the effect of the media coverage on public perceptions of the victims at the time, raising questions of just how far have we really come since then?”

We’ve rounded up a selection of reviews for the first episode to help you decide if you’d like to watch the show:


“In one of the best performances in an impeccable career, [David Tennant] is both believable and captivating as Dennis Nilsen in every scene. While bolstered by a physical rebalance to Nilsen, Tennant serves up a chilling imprint of the killer without straying into a mechanical impression.” – Radio Times


“David Tennant excels as a perfectly ordinary serial killer. This sensitive, finely worked drama shows us the unrelentingly bleak reality of the monstrous narcissist Dennis Nilsen’s macabre murders.” ★★★★ – The Guardian


“Avoiding the formulaic filming style of most primetime dramas, Des feels at once contemporary and of the time, managing to bring a distressing story to the screen without the use of gratuitous violence. It is perhaps the absence of gore that makes the series feel so creepy … For those who enjoy spending their evenings stepping inside the worlds of notorious serial killers, Des was made with you in mind. Just be prepared to go to sleep afterwards with the light on.” – Refinery 29


“Thankfully, the series has managed to avoid falling into the trap that true-crime sets for itself: how to handle the topic sensitively, without veering into the sensational.” – Digital Spy


“David Tennant is scarily good as real-life serial killer.” – Den of Geek


“The pacing of the miniseries is perfect, there is never a lull in the story. It continues to forge along without taking a breath as it heads towards the well-known conclusion … By far Tennant deserves all the accolades he has received for his characterisation of Nilsen.” – TV Blackbox


“Mesmerising David Tennant has killer down to a tee.” ★★★★★ – The Times


“Although this is based on a true story, there’s tension in how certain scenes and cases play out, and there are fantastic scenes between Tennant and Mays, leading to powerful confrontations, and Jason Watkins always makes for good support. – DVD Fever


“The performances of Tennant, Mays and Watkins totally make it worth your time and if you are unfamiliar with the case it may well have you gripped from start to finish.” – Evening Express


“David Tennant proves his versatility as he plays one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers … It has a confident script directed with a good sense of time and place … Although Tennant’s turn naturally draws the eye, there are fine performances from all the leads.” ★★★★ – The Independent


Des continues at 9pm tonight and 9pm tomorrow night on ITV in the UK.

A broadcaster in the US hasn’t yet been announced.

Brian Masters’ book Killing for Company is available on Amazon.